9 Under-the-Radar Chefs to Know in Atlanta
In a city as sprawling and diverse as Atlanta, there's plenty to captivate the dedicated food lover. But sometimes the Beard awards, TV appearances and reality show competitions mean that the spotlight's dominated by a limited number of cooks. And while they're certainly worthy of attention, we'd like to highlight the ATL powerhouses who deserve more. Lots of chefs here have been turning out great food without a lot of fanfare for years, which is why you'll see some names that may already be familiar to you — but merit even wider acclaim.
Jason Liang of Brush Sushi Izakaya
Downtown Decatur's bustling with excellent eateries, but it can feel a little inaccessible (especially if, for whatever reason, you're not up for hopping onto MARTA). So it was a surprise when chef Jason Liang decided to open his own spot there after years in other kitchens. He first impressed Atlanta at Brookhaven's The One Sushi + (a low-profile spot of its own, perhaps thanks to its head-scratcher of a name). A brief stint to launch Craft Izakaya in Krog Street Market introduced him to more Intown diners, but it's at his own restaurant where his talent has really come into its own. Plating meticulous sushi equal to the city's more famous Japanese spots, and reveling in combining a startling array of ingredients, Liang delivers an exceptional experience. This becomes particularly clear with an omakase dinner, in which he crafts beautiful dishes based on the freshest and most interesting ingredients at that moment.
Signature dish: The omakase option is expensive, but it's the best way to get a handle on Liang's many talents. Otherwise, if you're at the sushi bar, just ask for what he's most excited about these days.
316 Church St, Decatur; 678-949-9412
Shaun Doty of The Federal
While chef Shaun Doty is by no means unknown, the past few years have seen him focus on the fast-casual chicken restaurants Bantam & Biddy and Chick-a-Biddy. They've been a success for him and partner Lance Gummere, but the chef's personality doesn't shine through as much as it could at those spots. So with last month's opening of The Federal, a Euro-American bistro in Midtown, it's time Atlanta remembers that Doty made his name in contemporary fine dining at places like Mumbo Jumbo, Mid City and Shaun's, all now closed.
Signature dish: The Federal balances the approachability of a European bistro and an American steakhouse, so opt for a classic like Doty's chopped chicken liver on toast.
1050 Crescent Ave.; 404-343-3857
Courtesy Green Olive Media
Deborah VanTrece of Twisted Soul
Chef Deborah VanTrece is no stranger to the Atlanta scene, but it can be tough to make waves when cooking comfortingly familiar food — in VanTrece's case, classic soul food — rather than drawing on more distant culinary cultures. Foodies (and, admittedly, food media) love novelty, after all. More than a year after its Decatur incarnation closed, a revamped, relocated Twisted Soul opened on the Westside just this past weekend. We're hoping that having her winning plates back on tables will get Atlanta paying more attention to her cooking.
Signature dish: Country Captain, the curry-flavored Lowcountry dish we don't see nearly enough, exemplifies the coastal South's confluence of cultures, and VanTrece's way with a long-treasured recipe.
1133 Huff Rd.; 404-350-5500
Philippe Haddad of Cape Dutch
From the late '90s through the early 2000s, Belgian-born chef Philippe Haddad charmed Buckhead with his Francophile spot Philippe's Bistro. After that he went more behind-the-scenes in the hotel-restaurant world, cooking both here in Atlanta and abroad. Last year, though, he teamed up with a South African restaurateur to head the kitchen at Cape Dutch, and the match of bold grilling with Haddad's refined European sensibilities created impressive, satisfying dishes.
Signature dish: The braised rabbit leg, made with Belgian ale and a strong grain mustard sauce, now shows off European touches applied to steakhouse fare.
1782 Cheshire Bridge Rd. NE; 404-343-0313
Courtesy Poor Calvin's
Calvin Phan of Poor Calvin's
"Fusion cuisine" gets a bad rap, thanks to weird '90s excesses and the embrace of cheesy chain restaurants. But Calvin Phan and his undersung Poor Calvin's (set in a somewhat nebulous spot between Midtown and Downtown) make an argument that yes, you can mash-up the traditions of the American South and Southeastern Asia and still succeed.
Signature dish: The brilliant combo of deviled eggs with Korean-spiced barbecue beef, litchi and fish roe.
510 Piedmont Ave. NE; 404-254-4051
David Bies of Ticonderoga Club
Thanks to the pedigree of its bar team, this cozy Krog Street Market spot gets more attention for its cocktails. But chef David Bies turns out some stellar dishes that are playful and creative, melding Southeast Asian flavors (particularly those of underrepresented Indonesia) with a New England-y style. It's unusual, but it works. Having served at chef Linton Hopkins' Restaurant Eugene for years, Bies is well established, but the inviting fare at TC proves that when a skilled chef gets to cook from the heart, it's worth paying attention to.
Signature dish: Poh's eggplant, a side dish inspired by family in Indonesia and comprising roasted veggies in a sauce of coconut milk, tamarind and spices.
Courtesy Homespun ATL
Jason Jimenez of Kitchen Six / Homespun ATL
We've been impressed with chef Jason Jimenez's cooking since he launched his supper club and private-event cooking service Homespun, taking experience he'd garnered in restaurants like Canoe and Local Three and applying it to rustic, family-style New American fare. He's been quiet on the scene lately, but that's looking to change when his new North Decatur restaurant, Kitchen Six, opens in the next month or two.
Signature dish: Go with a group and get whatever seems like the biggest, most shareable dish on the menu — Jimenez has always championed communal dining.
2751 Lavista Rd, Decatur; 404-330-8336
Jason Starnes of South City Kitchen Buckhead
Before joining the South City Kitchen team to launch its newest Buckhead outpost, North Carolina–native Jason Starnes was executive chef at the Sun Dial. That rotating restaurant high atop the Westin is a great spot, but its rep as a special-occasion place sometimes worked against it. Starnes' way with Southern food, farm-fresh ingredients and hearty portions really shines at this third SCK, where the menu showcases the mini-chain's classics ("Southern Specialties" on the menu) alongside dishes unique to each branch ("Southern Plates"). These are the way to sample Starnes' distinctive cooking.
Signature dish: They change regularly depending on seasons, but a rabbit schnitzel over beet spaetzle inspired by Starnes' childhood was terrific, while the braised lamb currently on the menu is another pleaser.
3350 Peachtree Rd; 404-815-6677
Credit: Zagat/Sarah Dodge
Jorge Ortiz of Minero
This Mexican locale at Ponce City Market comes with the name of owner and overseeing chef Sean Brock, Charleston's heritage-ingredient darling. Brock's influence looms large on the menu, but we've got to give credit to Atlanta chef Jorge Ortiz, who's always delivered with his own additions. Drawing on his Mexican heritage for soulful, visually stunning dishes and adding flourishes of his own to Brock's recipes, Ortiz deserves more credit for that restaurant's high marks. Sadly, he's taking off for Mexico this month, and though he may return to ATL or head to the West Coast, his impact remains on Minero's menu.
Signature dish: Go for whatever's on special; we've recently had a standout torta ahogada and a tamale made with super-tender sweetbreads.
675 Ponce De Leon Ave NE; 404-532-1580